Renee Williams started working on her backyard last year, but she began focusing on it even more after being quarantined at home.
She and her husband are transforming an unattached garage into a party space, complete with new walls, flooring, a bar, and built-in seating in East Oak Lane.
“We just kind of go out there, because there’s really nowhere else to go,” said Williams, a vice president and senior auditor for a financial services firm who now works from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s our oasis.”
I can relate. I’m not crafty. Far from it. I’ve never had the time or interest. But while quarantining at home this spring, I got this idea that I wanted my patio to look like a tropical getaway.
Granted, putting out a fake plant, outdoor string lights, and bright-colored cushions is a far cry from Tahiti, but during challenging times like these, you make do. It’s a fun hobby that was fueled after I got added to a Facebook page devoted to outdoor living spaces. There, I discovered a tribe of similarly inspired women who post about transforming backyards or apartment balconies into personal havens. Dionne Watts-Williams of West Germantown recently added a privacy fence and solar-powered lights, installed sod, and planted hydrangeas along the perimeter of her yard.
“This whole thing with the pandemic has really pushed me to get some things done,” said Watts-Williams, communications and special events manager for the Fairmount Water Works. “That’s where I go now in the evenings. That’s Mommy’s hangout.”
So, when I read in a Philadelphia Magazine blog post that Mayor Jim Kenney had advised residents to suspend home-improvement projects because of the excess trash they create, I knew some folks weren’t going to like it.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many residents to spend much more time at home, generating an excessive amount of trash,” Kenney pointed out during an Aug. 4 briefing. “Industry reports note residential trash increases by more than 25% nationally, and that includes here in Philadelphia.”
A lot of people might not have thought twice about his comment, considering what the city has experienced lately with trash. But for those residents deep in HGTV-mode, this was a wait-what-are-you-talking-about moment.
“I understand what he’s saying. I understand that there is a lot of extra trash,” Watts-Williams told me. “But a lot of it is not just due to DIY. It’s due to people being home.”
For Shari Williams, wife of State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D., Phila.), adding a new umbrella and outdoor rugs to her Cobbs Creek backyard is therapeutic.
“I think that we need to continue do what we want to do in our homes, to make them as special and as comfortable as we want them to be,” said Williams (no relation to Renee Williams or Dionne Watts-Williams, who are sisters-in-law). “If we have more recycling and more trash, we, as citizens, should put it out neatly so that when the sanitation worker does come to pick it up, it is already nicely packaged and ready to go.”
“I don’t think you can say, ‘Please limit how you’re going to create your oasis,‘” Williams added. “We are not going to accept, ‘Limit this because of this.’ We are not doing that.”
Given what’s going on, it was insensitive for Kenney to ask residents to stop their home-improvement projects.
“I think that the do-it-yourself projects are what’s keeping people sane in times like this,” said Omar Salaam, business agent for AFSCME Local 427, part of District Council 33. “People are sitting at home and you’re seeing little things that you can do, and you’re discovering talents that you never really knew you had.”
His suggestion: Don’t wait for regular trash pickups. Utilize citizen trash drop-off centers. And if you do put out wood and other large items, think about the people who will have to pick it up. They’re essential workers too.